Thursday, November 27, 2008

Mark This Date

The Iraqi parliament approved status of forces agreements by a comfortable margin, even though Sunni Arabs did not get their demands of ending de-Baathification and disbanding special courts used to try Saddam-era crimes against the Kurds and Shias:

The Shiite bloc agreed to a Sunni demand that the pact be put to a referendum by July 30, meaning the deal must undergo an additional hurdle next year. It took nine months of difficult talks for U.S. and Iraqi negotiators to craft the agreement.

Under the agreement, U.S. forces will withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 and the entire country by Jan. 1, 2012. Iraq will have strict oversight over U.S. forces.

Lawmakers voted with a show of hands, and an exact breakdown of the parliamentary vote was not immediately available. But parliament speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani said an "overwhelming majority" of lawmakers who attended the session voted in favor. Parliament's secretariat, which counted lawmakers as they entered the chamber, said 220 out of 275 legislators attended.

The Presidential Council (of a Sunni Arab, a Kurd, and a Shia) must approve the law and the referendum, of course, must approve the deals.

I know many bloggers have declared VI Day already. But that was an arbitrary date picked as we defeated the two biggest threats--al Qaeda and the Sadrists and their Iranian pals. I think we are still too close to the war to say for certain if this victory over these two segments is the final victory. Should fighting flare up because Iran directly intervenes or some unknown threat arises, we will simply say that this was a lull between phases of the war.

But if the fighting truly is winding down as we help the Iraqis defeat the jihadis in the Mosul region and no other threat arises, when we look back to write the history of the war, this date will be a good marker for Victory in Iraq Day.

My guess is that the Iraqis will negotiate a new agreement to keep Americans in Iraq even after 2011. Iraq still needs us to guarantee that external threats are kept at bay while the Iraqis build up their conventional military power. Remember, Iraq's military is almost purely a counter-insurgency force now and cannot fight conventional enemy forces.

And even if some miracle of events leads to the overthrow of the Iranian mullahs and the neutering of the Syrian Baathist regime, Iraq will still need our armed presence to set parameters for resolving political disagreements inside Iraq. Remember, it isn't the factionalism that is a problem as far as I'm concerned. The question is whether the Iraqis settle their disputes through rule of law and accept election results (unlike the Thai losers of the last election who demand power despite their loss) as a mandate to govern and not to plunder--and if the losers understand that the winners won't use 50% plus one as a mandate to oppress the losers, the losers will gear up for the next election and to oppose the majority through the legal system and media rather than stockpiling arms.

So mark November 27, 2008 on your calendars. History may well record this as Victory in Iraq Day.